2016 Record: 8-8

NFL Draft: Rd 1 – S, Malik Hooker; Rd 2 – CB, Quincy Wilson; Rd 3 – DE, Tarell Basham; Rd 4 – OT, Zach Banner; Rd 4 – RB, Marlon Mack; Rd 4 – DT, Grover Stewart; Rd 5 – CB, Nate Hairston; Rd 5 – ILB, Anthony Walker Jr.

Pitt Players: OLB, Jabaal Sheard #93

Team Overview:

In a few short years, the Indianapolis Colts have gone from an AFC powerhouse to a team that has struggled to stay .500 despite playing in an underwhelming AFC South division. The post-Peyton Manning era for the Colts initially looked promising when they drafted Stanford grad Andrew Luck to lead their offense for many years to come. However, injuries have led to questions around whether Luck will be able to continue the success he has had.

After his first three seasons, Andrew Luck looked to be on his way to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Then in 2015, the injury bug hit Luck and forced him to miss 9 games for what was originally thought to be a separated shoulder and then a lacerated kidney. Luck only missed one game in 2016 and it was from a concussion. This past offseason, fans found out that Luck’s shoulder injury was worse than a separation. He was suffering from a torn labrum that would require surgery. Barring any difficulties, it looks like Luck should be able to play early in the season, which is crucial for the Colts.

On offense, the Colts have some talented weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. At receiver they have a talented young playmaker in T.Y. Hilton and two players with impressive speed, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. They have veteran tailback Frank Gore in the backfield to provide them with a run game as well. However, the weakness for this offense is their offensive line. Luck’s injuries were a result of being sacked entirely too much. With a foot injury to their best lineman, center Ryan Kelly, that will cause him to miss 6-8 weeks, this line will have a tough time protecting Luck.

The weakness of the Colts is clearly their defense. In 2016 they struggled, and finished 22nd in points against and 30th in yardage against, according to ESPN. The Colts did look to improve their defense this offseason. In the draft they added Malik Hooker with the fifteenth overall pick and former Florida cornerback, Quincy Wilson, in the second round. They also signed Jabaal Sheard during free agency, who is coming off of a Super Bowl win with the Patriots. Although these additions should help the Colts defensive unit improve, I think the results won’t be drastic. Just like the Saints, the Colts are a team that should be good offensively but struggle defensively.

Game by Game Predictions:

Week 1: Away at the Los Angeles Rams

The Colts start the season traveling to Los Angeles to play the Rams. Although Luck doesn’t look to miss significant time this season, I do think he will miss the opener, meaning Scott Tolzien will be under center. Luckily the Colts won’t have to play a tough opponent without Luck, and Tolzien should be able to do enough to get them the win over the Rams. Look for Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a Pitt alumnus, to miss this game as he continues his holdout.

Predicted Score: 17-10 Colts (Current Record: 1-0)

Week 2: Home vs the Arizona Cardinals

I think by Week 2 Andrew Luck will be ready to make his season debut. Arizona has been a team with a solid defense over the past few years. However, after losing both Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson in free-agency, they won’t be the same. I don’t think Carson Palmer is going to return to form either, as age has caught up to him. Luck will be rusty and struggle at first in this game, but will lead his team to the win with a solid second half.

Predicted Score: 27-13 Colts (Current Record: 2-0)

Week 3: Home vs the Cleveland Browns

The Browns have had a somewhat successful offseason and look to be better than their 1-15 record from a year ago. However, this team still isn’t anywhere near being a competitor, and the Colts shouldn’t have much of a problem beating the perennial bottom-dwelling Browns.

Predicted Score: 31-21 Colts (Current Record: 3-0)

Week 4: Away at the Seattle Seahawks

After starting 3-0 against teams that are likely to all be well under .500, the Colts get a reality check when they travel to CenturyLink Field to face-off against the Seahawks. This game will be the first time in 2017 that the Colts play a team that can actually contend for a Super Bowl, and the result will be the first loss of Indianapolis’s season.

Predicted Score: 34-20 Seahawks (Current Record: 3-1)

Week 5: Home vs the San Francisco 49ers

The Colts get their fourth easy game of the season when the 49ers come to town. The only thing the 49ers will be competing for in 2017 is the worst record and the first overall pick. This game will be all Colts, all day.

Predicted Score: 38-10 Colts (Current Record: 4-1)

Week 6: Away at the Tennessee Titans

The Colts will start their divisional schedule here in Week 6 against the up-and-coming Tennessee Titans. This game should be a good one with two young, talented quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota. I think the season series between these two teams will be split and the Titans win their home game here.

Predicted Score: 28-24 Titans (Current Record: 4-2)

Week 7: Home vs the Jacksonville Jaguars

After falling to 0-1 in the division, the Colts get a chance to win a division game the following week against the Jaguars. The Colts shouldn’t have a problem beating Jacksonville, and at this point in the season, Ryan Kelly could be back as well. Luck will lead his team to a win here.

Predicted Score: 17-7 Colts (Current Record: 5-2)

Week 8: Away at the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a team that has driven right off of a cliff over the past two years. They have gone from a playoff team to an unhinged team featuring troublemakers on and off the field — such as Vontaze Burfict, Joe Mixon and Adam Jones —that struggles to replicate their success from a few years ago. The Colts should be able to pull out another win here and take a 6-2 record into the difficult second half of their schedule.

Predicted Score: 24-17 Colts (Current Record: 6-2)

Week 9: Away at the Houston Texans

Week 9 marks the start of the second half of the Colts’ season, which will prove to be much more difficult than their relatively easy first half. The Texans may have finally found their long term answer at quarterback with Deshaun Watson to lead their offense and match their very talented defense. The difference in this game will be the defenses, where Houston is significantly better.

Predicted Score: 24-10 Texans (Current Record: 6-3)

Week 10: Home vs the Pittsburgh Steelers

After a loss to the Texans, the Colts will have to face an even better opponent in the Pittsburgh Steelers. With one of the best offenses in the league, a solid defense and a loyal and loud fanbase that follows them on the road, the Steelers should cruise to a win here.

Predicted Score: 38-14 Steelers (Current Record: 6-4)

Week 11: Bye-Week

This late bye week could not come at a better time for the Colts. By this point in the season, fatigue will start to set in and a bye week after two losses against two tough teams will do a ton to reinvigorate the Colts. This bye also gives the Colts an extra week to prepare for an important divisional matchup against the Titans.

Current Predicted Record: 6-4

Week 12: Home vs the Tennessee Titans

As I stated earlier, the season series between these two teams will be split. The circumstances surrounding this game will play a huge part in the Colts win. The Colts will be coming off of a bye-week and playing at home. The Titans will go on the road a week after playing a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team. The Titans will likely be banged up and the Colts will be fresh, and this will factor into why Indianapolis will win this game.

Predicted Score: 24-13 Colts (Current Record: 7-4)

Week 13: Away at the Jacksonville Jaguars

As mentioned earlier, the Jaguars will not be a good team once again this year. The Colts will sweep the season series here and secure at least a .500 record on the year.

Predicted Score: 24-10 Colts (Current Record: 8-4)

Week 14: Away at the Buffalo Bills

I’m not sure what kind of team the Buffalo Bills will be this year, but I do know they won’t be a great one. The Bills are likely to be a mid-tier team that will hover around the .500 mark. In week 14 they will be coming off of a game against the powerhouse Patriots, whereas the Colts will be coming off of an easy win against the Jaguars. The Colts should take this one.

Predicted Score: 28-13 Colts (Current Record:9-4)

Week 15: Home vs the Denver Broncos

After three consecutive wins coming off of their bye week, the Colts streak will be broken when they host the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, led by their incredible defense, are just too good of a team for the Colts to beat. The Colts struggle here and lose their fifth game of the season.

Predicted Score: 21-7 Broncos (Current Record: 9-5)

Week 16: Away at the Baltimore Ravens

The Colts will travel to Baltimore to face another team with a very good defensive unit in week 16. The Ravens and the Colts could very well be battling for the last AFC playoff spot at this point in the season. However, I think the Ravens are the better team, and they pull off the win as the Colts go 2-2 against the AFC North.

Predicted Score: 17-10 Ravens (Current Record: 9-6)

Week 17: Home vs the Houston Texans

The final game of the season for the Colts could be one with playoff implications for the team. By week 17, I think the AFC South will be the Texans division to lose. They may need to win this game to win the division. The Colts will likely need to win this game if they want a chance to sneak into the playoffs. This game could very well be flexed into the Sunday Night game and it should be a good one. As they say, defense wins championships, and that is exactly what it will do as the Texans win the division crown and end the Colts’ playoff hopes.

Predicted Score: 21-10 Texans (Current Record: 9-7)

Final Results:

Is a 9 win season possible for the Colts? I believe it is very possible, but only because the Colts start off the season with one of the easiest 5 game stretches you will find on any team’s schedule. Getting to play non-division games against the Browns, Rams, Cardinals and 49ers while also getting to play the Jaguars twice should lead to at least a .500 record if not better. The Colts are not a serious playoff contender, and their 9-7 record doesn’t represent the struggles this team will face. With a tougher schedule, the Colts would have a tough time even winning 6 games. That being said, 2017 will be a decent year for the Colts to build and move back towards becoming the perennial AFC powerhouse they once were.

Predicted Record: 9-7

*Photo Credit:Postdoctoral Research and Teaching (PRT) Fellows